Travelogue

Day Two: An Economy of Movement

Overlooking East Jerusalem

“It is clear that there must be improvement in the Palestinian people’s ability to move goods within (the Palestinian) territories and to outside markets,” explained Jonathan Carpenter, Economic Section Chief of the Consulate General. Carpenter was describing what others have called the “hollowing out” of the Palestinian economy. The CRS delegation met with Carpenter, the acting head of the Consulate, Micaela A. Schweitzer-Bluhm, and the just arrived USAID representative, Thomas Johnson, at this well-secured former Catholic Monastery in West Jerusalem.

After just two days in the country, it is immediately clear to all of us that you cannot talk about economic development without delving deeply into the overarching issues of security from the Israeli point of view, and freedom of movement from the Palestinians vantage point. Almost every single conversation with Israeli officials and Palestinians comes back to one of these two issues.

No Israeli, Palestinian or US official would disagree that it is very difficult, if not impossible, for a Palestinian to travel for work or school between the principal areas of the Palestinian territories – East Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Gaza, Hebron. This was confirmed over and over again by our CRS’ staff day-to-day experience on the ground. In this tiny region, small farmers cannot take their goods to market, stonecutters can not ship their product to Israeli businessmen and college students are hesitant to dream of attending college outside the narrow confines of their immediate area. The average income of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, for example, is less than 1/3 of the income of that of $30,000 average salary in Israel.

This is not some sort of remote hypothetical issue for the Muslim and Christian people of East Jerusalem. They deal with checkpoints, outright restrictions about travel on well-paved “Israeli only” roads, years waiting for housing and business permit that never come. These are not hidden realities; quite to the contrast these are formal, well-published and fully debated policies of the democratically elected Israeli Knesset (Parliament). Why: in a word “security, security, security.”

“There is no question this is an increasing problem …but I am seeing some positive steps towards collaboration taken by both sides, says Carpenter. For example, $125 million was released to fund the salaries of Palestinian government workers, many of whom had not been paid by the Palestinian Authority for months. Pumping this much money into the relative small economy of the Palestinian territories has had a very positive impact. However, the PA is broke and the funds will run out by the end of this year.”

Tourism is the key to the economic health of Jerusalem, with its ability to attract Christian, Jewish and Muslim tourists from all over the world. However, in our walks around the Palestinian area of East Jerusalem and even in the Old City, we ran across only small pockets of tourists. This city should be thriving but instead the vendors call out in discouraged voices trying to entice us to buy something.

We traveled back to Tel Aviv to get a different perspective on the challenges facing Palestinians who are still located in Israel proper. In 1996 a group of concerned Israeli Jews joined together with Palestinian olive oil farmers to help Arab farmers stay on their land. The group is call Sindyanna of Galilee, and is providing training and “fair trade” export markets for Palestinians who are still located in Israel. Roni Ben Efrat, Resource Manager for Sindyanna, explain this somewhat unique joint enterprise in this manner: “As an Israeli Jew, I realized that there is so much discrimination against Arab farmers and they don’t have access to markets. As Jews, we can get permits and make things happen within Israel much easier. We also wanted to help women in their 30s and 40s earn income and raise their families above the poverty level (about $1000 per month in Israel). Last years we shipped 40 tons of olive oil to fair trade organizations overseas, including CRS’ partner, SERRV/A Greater Gift (www.crsfairtrade.org). We took all of the profits and reinvested it into training programs for Arab women.”

Ultimately, Rabbi David Rosen, of the American Jewish Committee in Jerusalem, in a rapid fire 40 minute talk that kept our heads spinning, made it very clear that ultimately that lifting Palestinians out of poverty will first require changes in the human heart and relationships between Muslims, Christians and Jews.

“Everyone in this part of the world sees themselves as victims and they are waiting for someone else to take the first step. People see this as a zero-sum game; if Palestinians win them Jews lose. If Christian Arabs get something then Muslim Arabs lose something.

Ultimately the only way out of this situation is for people from the outside to show that they really care about all sides… we must learn to show sincere love for all people in the Holy Land.”

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2 Responses to “Day Two: An Economy of Movement”

  1. Emily Stanton Says:

    Hi Hedley et al:

    I have loved reading these accounts and details since it is sometimes difficult to understand what is really going on. It strikes me that on one hand we Americans may find these walls and high concern for security an anomaly and yet it really isn’t. It takes different forms here in the US maybe more subtle but with the same intention.It may manifest as choosing to living out in the county so that we may feel safer than the city or sending our children to private schools if we do live in the city because we heard the local school is full of gang activity. When it comes to our family and those we love- we will do anything to keep them safe. That is universal. I am wishing and hoping that everyone in the group and those with whom you meet are safe tonight.
    Much love to Hedley and warm regards to the rest of the group-
    Emily Stanton (Hedley’s wife)

  2. Linda Kjeldgaard Says:

    Hello
    I visited Palestine and Israel two years ago this month. I was fortunate to stay with a Palestinian family in Bethlehem and visit SERRV’s / AGG producers. As you move about the country, everyone back home has to realize that Americans move with ease compared to the Palestinians. Hours are spent at each check point and the movement of every necessity of life can be stopped from passing. Food, medical supplies, ambulances,
    Many Palestinians that reside in Bethlehem can not visit Jerusalem. Even with proper papers they can be refused access to the roads and cities only a few miles from their homes.
    Without involvement of the Christian community in the West and the groups such as Sindyanna, Holy Land, the YWCA, the Arab Women’s Union and more, the situation will not improve. Only with Christ-like commitment to peace and justice can it move forward.
    I hope your journey is safe and you continue to be moved by every moment you spend in this embattled area of the world
    Linda

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